The Problem With the Teenage Brain
Using a metallic marker for eyeliner.
Dying a cat pink.
Putting tuna fish in a gas tank.
Throwing a leather armchair into a swimming pool after lighting it on fire.
Driving a moped into the ocean.
Attaching bungee cords to a television and throwing it off the roof.
Replacing the vodka in the near empty bottle with water thinking no one will notice.
Using a hypodermic needle to inject liquor into innocent looking citrus fruit and bringing it to school in your lunchbox.
And I could go on and on. These are all acts committed by teenagers, that I either witnessed or had some hand in (I am happy to say none of these were my ideas and no, I didn’t dye a cat pink). These were all acts of questionable intelligence and virtually no common sense committed by teenagers, when I was indeed one of them. It is common knowledge that teenagers, while often incredibly resourceful and intellectually impressive, will often do a lot of stupid stuff. For most adults it is baffling, sometimes amusing, but oftentimes infuriating.
Now comes news that intellectual misfires like the ones I outlined above are not a product of teenagers being dumb or simply not thinking. It is more of an indication not of what they are thinking, but how they are thinking.
According to a report on NPR, the frontal lobe of a teenage brain is simply not yet fully connected. This is the part of the brain that determines whether or not an action is wise or unwise, and also contends with the foreseen consequence of the action (e.g., lighting a tire on fire in your driveway will create logistical problems in the immediate future). Unlike most normal adult brains, the nerve cells of teenager’s brains are sluggish and provide an inefficient form of communication between one part of the brain and another. This is also seemingly why many teenagers appear to be so self involved and narcissistic, unable to consider neither the needs of others nor the effects of their actions on others.
The report also outlines how the brains of children and adolescents are easily excitable. Their brain chemistry is tuned to be responsive to everything in their environment, which facilitates easy learning as well as a potential expressway toward substance abuse and addiction. For example, studies show that a teenager who smokes pot or engages in casual drug use will still show cognitive deficits days later, where as an adult who does an equal amount of drugs will return to cognitive baseline much faster. In addition, a recent study conducted at University of California, San Diego compared the brain scans of teens who drink heavily with the scans of teens who don’t, and they found damaged nerve tissue in the brains of the teens who drank, some of it being irreversible and greatly impacting attention span and comprehension.
The gravity of the addiction/abuse component aside, these findings bring to light what exactly it is that keeps some teenagers from doing the right thing, and often times engaging in behavior that is confounding to adults. Hopefully this information will provide more understanding (and maybe compassion) in cases where parents and teenagers butt heads. However, I am sure some people might view these findings as justification to rein teenagers in and strictly prohibit their freedoms, on account of their immature neurochemistry.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Have you witnessed behavior that backs up these claims or possibly dispels them? Does a report like this unfairly brand teenagers as intellectually unstable? I would love to hear from parents and teenagers alike.